Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Professor Terry Sturm - a personal memoir

Professor Terry Sturm
I have just heard the sad news that Professor Terry Sturm of Auckland University has died, after a long illness. The NZ Herald has nice piece on him, and his work here . In part they say:
"Prof Sturm was a member of the faculty of arts for 25 years and was a leading critic and scholar of Australasian writing, especially New Zealand popular fiction. He played a leading role in placing New Zealand literature at the centre of the academic curriculum. In 1990, he was awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to literature..."
Life and works
Auckland University, in a fulsome tribute made the following comments on his life and work.

Terry Sturm was a leading critic and scholar of Australasian writing, especially New Zealand popular fiction. He played a leading role in placing New Zealand literature at the centre of the academic curriculum. In 1990, Terry was awarded a CBE in recognition of his services to literature.

Terry Sturm was born in Auckland in 1941 and began his distinguished career at The University of Auckland. He undertook postgraduate work at Cambridge University and at the University of Leeds. He then lectured in English Literature at the University of Sydney 1967–1980, when he left to take a professorial chair at The University of Auckland.

He edited various standard literary reference works including The Oxford History of New Zealand Literature in English (1990, 1998), the drama section of the Oxford History of Australian Literature and the New Zealand section of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Post-colonial Literatures in English (1994).

Terry Sturm’s literary biography An Unsettled Spirit: The Life and Frontier Fiction of Edith Lyttleton (G B Lancaster) (Auckland University Press, 2003) was the product of 15 years of research in New Zealand, Australia and England.

Assisted by a Marsden Fund grant, Terry spent the past recent years researching and writing a definitive literary biography, The Writings of Allen Curnow: a Study of Cultural Identity in New Zealand in the Twentieth Century.

In 2005, he edited a selection of Curnow’s verse written under his pseudonym Whim Wham, Whim Wham’s New Zealand: The Best of Whim Wham 1937-1988 (Vintage, 2005).

Terry Sturm was involved in literary arts administration for many years. He was on the NZ Literary Fund and the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (1982–92) and in 1997 became first convenor of the Humanities Panel of the Marsden Fund.

“Terry Sturm made a major contribution to the study of New Zealand and Australian literature and his scholarship was rightly recognised nationally and internationally. As an academic, Terry was top of his field; he was also deeply valued as a colleague and friend.

Our sympathies go out to his wife Linda and to his sons, Jonathan, Mark and Tim and their families,” says Professor John Morrow, Dean of the Faculty of Arts..."

The funeral will be held in the university's Maclaurin Chapel on Friday.

The private record
All of the above is, if you will, part of the public record. However, there will also be the very private record of his many colleagues and ex students who had the privilege of meeting, working with, or being taught by TS.

I'm not being sentimental here. He was a genuinely lovely guy, who among his many other accomplishments, taught me to say G'day in a proper accent.

MA Class - English Literature: 1990
My weekly G'day' tutorial happened at the beginning of his MA class in New Zealand Literature. in 1990. How I got to be sitting there is the core of my story, and equally, a measure of his generosity of spirit and purpose.

Thus in February, 1990, I/we hadn't been in Auckland much more than a month, or so. I had just arrived from London - knew hardly a soul personally, and absolutely nobody, professionally. But had ambitions to write, or study.

Cultural Materialism
One option I had in mind was to continue the work I had started in Sussex on cultural materialism. At the time, pre Jamie Bellich, I had this very thin, albeit persistent idea, that the notion of the New Zealand 'home farm' could be worked into an example of Raymond William's "structure of feeling"

To do that I needed to make some kind of connection with Auckland University. Someone, I think Murray Gray, then at Under Silkwood Books, recommended I talk to Professor Sturm. So I phoned him up.

Come on Down
I remember his voice so clearly. He listened to my opening, asked a few question that made it crystal clear he understood better than I did what I was trying to frame, and then, after a pause, said, as clear as day, "why don't you come on down".

A couple of days later I was sitting in his office. We talked some more, and agreed that I needed to ground the idea a whole lot more - and why didn't I come and sit in on his MA class in New Zealand Literature, as his guest. A week or so later that's what happened.

I stayed on for the whole semester. It was the most brilliant experience: he twinkled - probed - challenged and encouraged the whole group, and every now and then, brought me in - made me think a bit harder - and offered me a library of references and ideas for further thought and study.

Seems astonishing to say this happened 20 years ago - but it did - and I have never forgotten this gift he gave me. And I am still grateful!

And I can still say. G'day without disgracing myself!